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Sidi women sing
Do you recognise this song?
 real 28k

The Sidis of Gujarat
Listen to their drums, wind instruments and singing
 real 28k

Ethnomusicologist Amy Catlin
"A connection that goes back to biblical times"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 15:08 GMT
India's lost Africans: Your response
Sidis dancing
The community may have several different origins
By Andrew Whitehead

The story of the Sidis, the Indian community of African descent which has lost contact with its African origins, has attracted enormous interest from around the world.


The song of the Sidi ladies . . . is very similar to one sung by my father's tribe in Harar in Ethiopia

Basha Sebro in Ethiopia
The recent report on BBC News Online about the Sidis' quest for their history has prompted hundreds of e-mails.

Professor Amy Catlin, the ethnomusicologist who is studying the Sidis' last cultural link with Africa - their music and dance - said the responses to our story were "really fascinating".

She is now in Bombay pursuing her research, and one main theme is to identify the African provenance of the distinctive music played by isolated Sidi communities in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Eskender Mekonnen, an Ethiopian living in Canada, was one of several people who suggested that the Sidis' drums appeared identical to those still being used in Orthodox church services in Ethiopia.

"The song of the Sidi ladies in India," declared Basha Sebro in Ethiopia, "is very similar to one sung by my father's tribe in Harar in Ethiopia."

But the legend that the Sidis' had west African origins also attracts support.

We received several e-mails pointing out that the African village in Gujarat, Jambur, shares a name with a village in The Gambia.

African diasporas

And there was news of several other African communities across South Asia.

Map showing Gujarat state in India
We received many e-mails about the Sheedi or Makrani community outside Karachi in Pakistan.

"The Makran coast was once part of the Sultanate of Oman," explains Asim Alavi in the US, "and the Sheedis came as slaves of the Omani rulers.

"They are very friendly people, famous for their music and dances, and great athletes."

There is also a community of African origin in Hyderabad in southern India, the descendants of the African cavalry recruited by the old princely ruler.

And we also received e-mails about an African trading community near Belgaum, again in southern India, and about small settlements in western Sri Lanka.

Research

And although the Sidis are one of the most overlooked elements of the massive African diaspora, we heard about a lot of research now underway.

Sidi man
Further research is needed
Dr Richard Pankhurst in Addis Ababa is editing a book about Africans in Asia; Helene Basu, a Berlin-based anthropologist, is researching into the Sidis' ancestral saint, Bava Gor; and in Bombay, Beheroze Shroff is making a documentary film about the community.

One or two e-mails complained that the Sidis were being regarded as an anthropological curiosity rather than a living community, and resented the implication that Africans settled in new continents only as slaves.

What is clear from all your e-mails is that the Sidis don't have a single history - but many different strands to their past.

Their ancestors came to South Asia at different times, and from different places.

While some were slaves, others were soldiers, seafarers, traders and fakirs.

If you want to contribute to the discussion about the origin of the Sidis, please use the e-mail form below to contact Andrew Whitehead at the BBC World Service programme The World Today

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
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27 Nov 00 | South Asia
The lost Africans of India
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